Friday, February 16, 2018

Our reserves are open for pillage

The Reserves Act 1977 is meant to protect our environment, by placing some areas off-limits for development. Except, it turns out that it doesn't. Where a reserve is owned and managed by local government, they can apparently let it be dug up for an open-cast coal-mine:

One of several legal attempts to block a new coal mining venture on the West Coast has failed, but campaigners say the fight to stop the mine is far from finished.


Forest and Bird fought a separate legal campaign over an earlier decision by Buller District Council to allow the mining company access to its Water Conservation Reserve.

The council then rescinded that decision after being threatened with legal action from Forest and Bird.

Rangitira replied by challenging that reversal in the High Court.

That case has now produced a verdict, and it went against Forest and Bird and in favour of the mining company.

The court argued the original approval of access - granted under the Crown Minerals Act - had higher legal standing than the Reserves Act that Forest and Bird had relied on to block access.

This follows straightforwardly from s109 of the Reserves Act in combination with s22(2) of the Interpretation Act 1999. While local councils are required to have regard to the purpose for which land is held, it can be balanced against other considerations such as supposed economic benefit. Which, given the usual quality of local government decision-making and its propensity for capture by large donors and special interests, means open pillage.

As for fixing it, I'd suggest repealing s109. Does any MP want to bring a member's bill?

The full decision is here.